Methods of evaluating upgrades or tweeks

After reading the 7500 ethernet cables and switches mania thread (now closed) I find myself compelled to question people’s methods of evaluating their tweeks or upgrades. It seems to me they vary hugely. Myself, I like to listen for a few weeks then switch back to my original set up and see then if there is an upgrade or not. While some have said they can tell when the stylus hits the record within 3 seconds. Please let me know your methods.

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The same when you test a 282 vs 252, Nds vs Nd555…
Relax, listen some hours . Then put again the past component again.
If a new component, let burn in a few days, 24/24, and listen only after.
If the component is easy to swap, like an Ethernet cable or switch, I listen to 2 tracks, 1 minute per track, then swap and listen to the same tracks, then swap again.
Not saying it’s the most accurate method, but is how I listen.

You should be able to instantly discern a difference in how the air is energised at various volumes around the speakers, but you will need some time to decide if that difference is better.
Going back, taking out a new item then swapping back an old one can be problematic as one might have developed listening habits that could be far from what the original artist intended - preferences of the type of cloth for the ears :laughing:


I think it also depends on what you are changing and how you’re evaluating it. I personally give a major black box investment a good 6 months to know if it’s a keeper or not. Other things especially cheaper ones or tweaks like a new mat for a turntable or a cartridge you’ll probably have a feel of it’s relative merits fairly quickly.
I personally find speakers the most challenging, both to evaluate effectively and ultimately to commit to. It seems a lot of people stick with speakers for many years and across many systems.
The fact that Ethernet cable thread ran as long as it did shows how inconclusive that product category is. I have found it curious that Naim never made their own network cable and put it to bed once and for all.
Also a lot of this hobby comes down to budget and free time. I expect we’d all just get Statement setups and be satisfied if we didn’t have a real life to worry about but then I expect most of us treat this as a luxury hobby on a finite budget and enjoy it momentarily and sporadically most of the time, I know I do having two pre school age kids!
I would say in terms of making purchases choices I do try and listen at my dealer or get kit home and try it there if he’s willing to do that, I do at times think he imagines I’m a millionaire bachelor given the kit he has me sit and listen to but it’s always good fun and I usually end up getting what I know I’ll enjoy. The good thing about Naim’s approach to product design is that it is very inclusive and genuinely has something for every budget and level of enthusiasm.


Interesting and potentially useful subject for a thread.

One method for evaluation that is used by some people (@Peder is one exponent) is “Tune-Dem”, which is based on the ability to follow a tune, and apparently enables very quick assessment of which of two setups or components is better. I hope someone will give more detail here, in particular answering a question I raise on the now locked ethernet mania thread, without answer. If my understanding of the methodology is correct, it would appear that it focuses only on one aspect of musicality, namely the ability to follow the tune played by each instrument - it doesn’t seem to consider anything to do with the character of the presentation or whether everything is in balance, or indeed whether it actually engages a particular listener.

The example I used when I queried this was that you could have a system that only reproduces down to, say, 120 Hz, and although you would be able to follow the tune of all the bass instruments by hearing their harmonics it would be missing the fundamentals and thus the feel of the music. With a different component the system might have the full frequency range but you might not be able to follow every instrument as well as with the first. Tune-Dem appears to say the first system is best, but someone may actually find the second engages them better and gives them more musical enjoyment.

Other people assess over a longer time, and indeed that is what I do - except that if something sounds demonstrably worse I will reject instantly.


As has been suggested already, how to go about evaluating may depend on what is being evaluated. To avoid my post being excessively long, for this one consider only speakers, and come back to other things a bit later.

Unlike other gear I don’t blind test speakers, mainly because it requires considerable effort and co-operation by the seller as well as availability of a trusted operative. I have to hope that my natural aversion to spending money unnecessarily and high cost of decent speakers will help steer me towards retaining the status quo unless demonstratively better. Also relevant is that speakers are the part of a system most imposing their own character - and that can assist audition because it means that differences are often very audible rather than the much more subtle differences generally between electronics and ancillaries.

Now the process: Assuming the seller doesn’t already have my existing speaker model, the most important thing is to take them with me. (Done that more than once with a large pair weighing ~60kg each! All dealers and a private seller readily agreed by phone, and none batted an eyelid when they saw the reality - and in the case of dealers had their staff carry them into their demo rooms, even up stairs.). I also take my power amp if they don’t have the same. In setting up in someone else’s room it is unrealistic to try to test and find optimum speaker and listening positions so my speakers go wherever the dealer, has selected as the optimum spot for the ones being demoed.

My first listen is with my existing speakers: I play a selection of music on my to get a feel for the sound in the demo room, using music giving a range of different demands for the speakers. I feel this is absolutely vital in a different room from one’s own when upgrading. After that I swap in the new speakers, positioned in same place, and repeat. If I don’t like, which often can be as quick as the first piece of music, then end of demo and move on (next speaker or next place). If I am auditioning more than one speaker then repeat with the others. If more than one is still in contention at that point, the next stage is undertaken on two of the new speakers first, to find the best before finally doing the same to compare the best with mine. When the speaker being evaluated sounds good on the first session with it, I then play more on it, and then revert to mine and play the same. And so on back and forth as necessary for as long as it takes to decide which is better. If I can’t decide then I will not buy unless there is some other good reason, such as a huge difference in home acceptability that justifies whatever is the cost.

Comparing one pair of speakers with my own I’d expect the process to take maybe half a day. (though quicker if an instant dislike!). Comparing multiple speakers obviously longer. Although theoretically it would be best to do the final evaluation at home, that is not always practicable, and in fact I have never done so - yet I have never been disappointed with speakers taken home after an audition like that.

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Good point made which I missed which is listening material choice and to an extent source as well (analogue/digital)
I’ve always listened to my own music when making a big investment decision.
I would say speakers are the component I’ve changed the least number of times and with the lowest frequency between changes.

Gosh, how admirably analytical and methodical this all sounds. I’m much less systematic. I don’t do tweeks, but to evaluate upgrades I start by arranging a dealer audition with a selection of my music. If that isn’t a clear and obvious improvement on what I have, I stop there. If it is, I usually ask for a home evaluation since the room plays such an important part in how a system sounds. If then I can’t face the prospect of it going back and reverting to the old system, the decision is made.

Having said all that, I ver recently decided the extra time I’m currently spending in my home office could be enlivened by a nice music setup, so ordered an Atom/ Neats on spec. It goes against all my instincts but seems to have worked well. I wouldn’t dare do that for the man system, though.


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Thanks Innocent Bystander. Like on the previous thread, we agree. Tune dem is part of the bigger picture to me too. There are many attributes and it’s rare in an already good system you can improve them all with a change. That is why I take a good while to observe all changes and what might impress me initially may grate later on. Like with boutique ethernet or interconnet cables as discussed on the previous thread.

If you can have a home demo and the product is in your system for, say, a week and it goes back to your dealer AND you really miss it, and its in your budget then its for you.
Then after a month it becomes the norm. The next step is called “upgradeitis” which will appeal to your dealer and perhaps not to your wallet.
One thing Naim have got right, usually, is their upgrade path is a genuine improvement at each step. Always been that way for me.

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If I can’t immediately hear a significant improvement then I won’t bother - especially if it costs significant money. I’m willing to play around with tweaks if they are free or inexpensive but marginal gains only merit marginal expense.

It has been mentioned on other threads that you tend to become accustomed to upgrades after a while and then the itch for improvement starts again. I’m off that treadmill.

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What is your system, Pev?

How true that seems, viewing some threads. But of course to some people the very process is their hobby (presumably as well as playing music), and they enjoy the constant fiddling, trialling different things, comparing sounds. To me the process is something I quite dislike, a tedious chore that is best avoided unless absolutely essential. Most of my own upgrades over several decades have been triggered by something else, rather than actively thinking I want to upgrade.


Hi JimDog,
I now have a Nova, N-Sats, Velodyne sub and Rega P3 turntable - only tweaks are a full fat Powerline and a Cisco switch. It sounds great to me and I have no urge to upgrade.
I do have history though - went from CB 62/90 all the way to olive CDS2/XPS/52/SC/135s/LP12/Troika and then back down to Uniti.
Every upgrade made sense at the time but I found myself enjoying my friend’s much more modest system just as much when I visited him, and when the original Uniti launched at the Bristol Show I enjoyed the Uniti room just as much as the 500 series room. It didn’t sound the same but it was somehow more balanced and fun.


I agree and I find it difficult to understand and misleading to others that some find differences where I couldn’t, like the emperors new clothes. And then would not allow for different opinions as we are looking for different things. You cant argue what is your favourite album or film but they seemed to argue what is the best power lead or ethernet cable. I am positive the perceived difference is what they expect to happen and their brain convinces them so.

Applying the same logic you could ask why would a wife or girlfriend buy or be gifted a handbag that cost as much as a good set of speakers to then put a bunch of keys and a lip balm in it. Part of the hobby of Hi-Fi is the indulgence, the decadence, the one-up-man-ship. Sometimes it’s ok for something to just feel like a treat or look nice.

Well, quite:

‘Have nothing in your home that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful’
(William Morris)

…as long as any one-upmanship doesn’t descend into yah-boo ad-hominems like never ever happens around here (hem hem).


It’s not got really rowdy for a while, probably due something kicking off soon, probably about one sort of cable or another inevitably…

In my earlier post I said that I approach electronics and ancillaries differently from speakers. With electronics and ancillaries I audition by playing a selection of music covering the full range of music types to which I listen, swapping back and forth between the new item and what it replaces. Sometimes that will be perhaps half an hour to an hour between swaps, sometimes back and forth after only a few seconds or tens of seconds repeating a short passage. And finally I listen for a couple of full sessions on one, then a couple of sessions on the other. This all may be curtailed or lengthened depending on the degree of evident difference, and carried out particularly thoroughly where there is high cost involved.

In recent years where possible ( home) I have taken to doing the testing blind (other than the full session ones), one of my sons being a willing helper. Maybe in a later post I’ll describe the process,

The time it takes to compare things depends on the degree of difference - sometimes quite evident very quickly, sometimes taking a lot longer. My default is that if I can’t decide which sounds better then my wallet wins unless there is any non-sound-quality reason for choosing one that justifies the cost (software usability, ease of something I might want to do in future, size, weight or electricity consumption etc).

When auditioning I never think about typical hifi terms like soundstage, or whether it sounds warm or lean or smooth, nor timing nor speed of bass etc, though I play tracks where I expect to feel the low bass, or be left hanging by an abruptly muted note, or be able to clearly focus on particular instruments, or hear the old soldier sitting next to me recounting his tale, etc. What I do do is simply listen to the music, comparing how natural and clear one is compared to another, and whether it is all there, and in balance.

The Tune-Dem approach intrigued me as a possible initial rapid filter, just whether worth proceeding further rather than a substitute for longer listening: to after all my music playing is generally for medium to long sessions, and I have to be entirely comfortable with the sound.

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Yet again another topic has closed because some people will not accept we all have ears and can all set up and evaluate our own systems and form our own opinions without xenophobic bias. So let’s use this topic to discussed testing and set up ideas.